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September 20, 1999

Child Fatality Report Shows Many Deaths Preventable

NASHVILLE, TN (SafetyAlerts) - A review of childhood fatalities in Tennessee in 1997 released today by the Tennessee Department of Health indicates that hundreds of children's deaths could have been prevented through the use of safety belts, child safety seats, helmets, flotation devices, smoke alarms, and better health education.

A review of 1,065 deaths that occurred in 1997 by 33 child fatality review teams showed that 69 percent were the result of natural causes, 22 percent were caused by unintentional injuries, 6 percent resulted from violence, and 2 percent were undetermined. The review teams were created in 1996 to review deaths of all children 17 and under in order to reduce the number of preventable child deaths in Tennessee.

"The needless death of even one child that could have been prevented is a tragedy," said Health Commissioner Fredia Wadley, MD. "We must take steps to make sure that parents and others are aware of the risks that children face and what can be done to prevent unnecessary fatalities."

Among deaths due to natural causes, 45 percent resulted from illness, 43 percent from prematurity and 13 percent from SIDS. Infant sleep position is a risk factor for SIDS, and 20 of the 94 SIDS fatalities were found face down on their stomach. Position on discovery was not known for another 62 SIDS deaths.

One hundred fifty children died in motor vehicle crashes, representing 14 percent of all childhood deaths. The child was the driver in 32 percent of the incidents. In at least 60 percent of the cases, child safety seats or safety belts were not used. In 10 percent of the incidents where the child was an occupant of a vehicle, the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and in 44 percent of the incidents, speeding or reckless driving was involved. In incidents in which a motorcycle, ATV or bicycle was involved, nine children died who were not wearing helmets.

Drowning was the second most frequent cause of unintentional injury deaths, followed by fire or burns, suffocation, and firearm accidents. Of 21 victims who drowned in a swimming pool or natural body of water, at least 19 were not wearing a flotation device. In half of the fatal fire and burn incidents, there was no smoke alarm, and 40 percent were caused by a child playing or someone smoking. Almost half of the suffocation deaths resulted from a person overlying or rolling over on the child.

Of the 68 violence related fatalities, 41 were homicide victims, and 27 committed suicide. Child abuse or neglect was suspected in 31 deaths.

More than half of the fatalities were children under one year old. Fatality rates were higher for males than females, and for blacks than whites.

The report includes recommendations by the child fatality review teams in order to prevent future child deaths. The teams called for passage of a graduated drivers license bill to reduce the number of teen drivers who die in vehicular crashes; mandatory autopsies and a standard investigation protocol for all sudden, unexplained deaths of children under 18; and the creation of a task force to develop strategies for firearm safety.

Source: Tennessee Department of Health

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